Introduction to UX Research - Part 2

Ann-Marie Ng
March 9, 2021

UX Research in Healthcare

The Wicked Problem: What do UX researchers deal with in the healthcare space?

Healthcare delivery has been described as a “wicked problem”—complicated in terms of the number of stakeholders, the diversity of needs, complexity of workflows, and pervasive regulatory and safety requirements. For example, medical/healthcare professionals and others in the industry, such as those working in pharmaceutical companies, use many tools in their workflow. For each role, there’s a whole ecosystem of apps connecting different functions and internal teams. There is hence the risk that a new digital product will complicate existing workflows rather than make lives easier. This means that new products really have to be created with the target users and existing ecosystem in mind, or risk becoming clutter.

UX Research in this industry needs to take into consideration what the current approaches and solutions are, if that information can be obtained, and consider the routines, practices and workflows of different types of users— clinicians, researchers, analysts, business teams and even patients. The UX team in Holmusk works very closely with relevant experts in the field, such as psychologists and psychiatrists, pharma reps, business reps and internal teams such the Data Science team. This is to ensure that the UX team understands the complexities of the subject and has the chance to run proposed designs and solutions through the subject matter experts. Putting all these together, research helps to determine if a product will fit seamlessly into the ecosystem, and whether it will improve or make the lives of users easier in any way.

For each role, there’s a whole ecosystem of apps connecting different functions and internal teams. There is hence the risk that a new digital product will complicate existing workflows rather than make lives easier.

During my time in Holmusk as a UX research intern, the team was conducting research to figure out potential directions that one of our products could take. There were a few ideas to be explored, but the scope was very broad, and there wasn’t yet clarity on what our points of focus ought to be. The research team identified business teams in pharmaceutical companies as our main target users, but in the end, the members of the team listened to and talked with a wide range of people, such as business, IT and data professionals both within and outside Holmusk. We also decided to conduct questionnaires with professionals working alongside the pharma business reps, such as their colleagues from marketing analytics and scientist roles. This was because we decided that we wanted a better overall understanding of the working environment, roles and workflows in a typical pharma department, at the point in time.

Behind the Scenes

As mentioned in Part 1 of this blog post series, during my internship, I helped with creating a questionnaire on UserTesting, an online platform which allows users from all over the world to participate in user research studies anonymously. Via UserTesting, we recruited a range of professionals in the pharmaceutical industry. One of the key participants, whom we shortlisted as a potential candidate for further interviewing, was in a pharmacovigilance role, and he provided a lot of useful insights via the questionnaire. The team also approached business, IT and data professionals both within and outside Holmusk for industry-specific details to get a bird’s eye view of what pharma companies were interested in.


There are certain challenges that one might run into when conducting research in this space. For instance, it may be more difficult to “check out the competition” because most healthcare technologies are proprietary (and thus private). Furthermore, the need to deal with IP rights as well as HIPAA guidelines (which protect the consumer by requiring companies in the USA to keep patient data private) adds to the challenge of conducting research in the healthcare space. For instance, even the survey provider for our product feedback forms has to be HIPAA compliant—think about that! Finding HIPAA-compliant feedback form platforms that offered affordable options and that could work with our existing Intercom setup actually turned out to be more challenging than expected.

Visualizing the end users in context may also be more difficult in healthcare, especially for certain users in the space—whether they are doctors/medical professionals or patients struggling with severe clinical depression. Due to restrictions and constraints, it’s difficult to gain access to patient health data in general.

Online platforms such as UserTesting help to maintain a sense of privacy because respondents have the ability to remain anonymous. For the questionnaire that we ran, our respondents only had to provide audio responses and did not have to reveal their faces or provide other significant identifying details. However, we noted that a few still skipped over details when it came to listing down tools that they were using in their workflows. And as for patients, interacting sensitively and appropriately in the context of a research session is an entire thing in itself!

Healthcare, with its different parts and changes, can be confusing at times. Different teams, departments and functions work differently in different parts of healthcare- whether it’s pharma, clinical research trials or healthcare analytics. Furthermore, these details vary depending on region; there’s a lot to keep track of when considering regulatory and market differences across countries. UX teams and teams in healthcare in general thus have to take the time to familiarize themselves with industry-specific features and changes, as well as keep up with research and developments in the industry. But with the possibility of making a significant impact in healthcare and the well-being of many? In my opinion, this extra work is well worth it!

Check out Part 1 – An Introduction to UX Research.